September 10th 2019
The Dopamine Diet: a diet plan that makes you happy as well as slim?
January 12th 2021 / 0 comment
Also known as the ‘Tom Kerridge’ diet, owing to the chef’s frankly astounding 70 kg weight loss, the dopamine diet is hailed as the healthy eating plan with a side-order of ‘happy’. How does that work? We did some delving…
A weight loss plan that boosts your mood is surely an oxymoron, but if the results and ravings of celebrity chef Tom Kerridge regarding the dopamine diet or 'happy diet' are anything to go by, uniting happiness with achieving a healthy weight is indeed possible. In Kerridge’s case, even enjoyable. It's not just Kerridge that's seen results either; one woman on Channel 4's How to Lose Weight Well dropped 13lbs by following the diet. So just what is this most joyful of diet plans, and where can you sign up?
The dopamine diet is so called due to the theory that by eating certain foods, we can boost the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that affects our brain’s reward centre and positively impacts on our mood. That spark of pleasure after a chocolate hit? That’s a dopamine surge. Associated with fatty and sugary foods, it’s not just junk that’s thought to stimulate an increase in dopamine - protein-rich foods are said to trigger it too, thanks to amino acid tyrosine. As such, healthy sources of protein could deliver the same kind of reward as sugary foods (bear with me here), helping us to maintain a healthy, balanced diet with fewer cravings and less potential for overeating (protein is typically more satiating than very sugary and fatty foods).
So just how did Kerridge lose eleven stone by following such a diet, and what did he eat? The British Dietetic Association weighs in:
“Kerridge describes his decision to eliminate all alcohol from his diet before adding that he cut out nearly all carbohydrates, and describes his current intakes as below 90g per day. Swapping a “small steak and chips to big steak and greens” is his diet formula, and cutting out all alcohol and starchy and sweet foods is a very effective way to reduce intakes of energy (calories).”
Clearly even a jobbing chef wouldn’t be putting away a steak a day - here’s what else is on the menu on the dopamine diet:
Meat and fish
All abundant in tyrosine, although you’ll need to dodge the processed variety (see ya for now sausages) and go for lean cuts. Tom loves nothing more than braised beef with horseradish. In terms of fish, omega 3 rich varieties such as salmon are staples.
Tom deemed dairy products “dopamine heroes”, and he ate full-fat cheese, milk, yogurt and double cream.
Fruit and vegetables
Obvs. Particularly dark leafy greens and bananas apparently.
Loaded with good old tyrosine.
Nuts and seeds
Squirrel these away in moderation.
I KID YOU NOT but make it dark. Tom has whipped up a dopamine diet-appropriate, chocolate mousse with sesame almond biscuit recipe featured in his book, and it sounds like something we could get on board with.
For more food high in tyrosine, and recipe ideas, the BBC has a dopamine diet hub offering up the likes of spinach protein pancakes and roast pork with lemon to satisfy taste buds and appetite while apparently giving your “happy” hormone a lift. You'll also find pulse-based dishes to cater for vegetarians and vegans.
If this way of eating manages to sustain and impress a professional foodie, surely it’s diet nirvana?
The dopamine diet lifestyle also incorporates smaller portions and regular meals to keep mood and blood sugar levels in check, while Kerridge kept fit by way of dopamine stimulating activities such as swimming, with yoga sessions to unwind after a day in the kitchen. If this way of eating manages to sustain and impress a professional foodie, surely it’s diet nirvana?
The thing is, there is a noticeable scarcity in the dopamine diet plan; namely, carbs. While the combination of lean protein, healthy fats, fruit, veg and the odd slab of chocolate makes dining the dopamine way filling and nourishing, the BDA has something to say on the general absence of carbohydrates, and whether protein by way of tyrosine can have any more of a positive effect on mood than good old carb contentment:
“This is one of many books describing low carbohydrate dieting, but his specific claim that protein foods bring joy (because they contain tyrosine, which convert to dopamine in the brain, which make you happy) is a massive over-promise based on very theoretical concepts. There are no human studies showing that more proteins in the diet translate to more dopamine levels in brain tissue, which lead to better diet adherence. In fact alternative claims based on stronger science supports the opposite: more carbohydrate increases tryptophan levels in brain tissue, which increase serotonin, which may make you content, so cutting out carbohydrates is not necessarily beneficial.”
So how can we explain Tom’s seemingly serene path to very effective weight loss? The ‘different strokes for different folks’ approach certainly plays a role, and while his meal plan has proved sustainable for him, as with all elements of diet and lifestyle, taking things to extremes rarely fosters long-term results. The BDA conclude that the dopamine diet plates up some wholesome ideas, but taking low-carb and any promise of happiness too literally is problematic:
“There are many ways to eat less, and Tom Kerridge’s way works for him. It may also work for others, and his many recipes could be an inspiration to start eating less and eating better. However, dopamine levels in the brain are not the explanation and cutting out carbohydrates may make meeting fibre recommendations difficult.”
The likes of fried halloumi salad and shepherd’s pie with creamy cauliflower mash (just a few of Tom’s dopamine diet dishes) sound inviting to us, but tucking away some porridge, wholegrain bread and brown rice will ensure you’re getting a balanced profile of nutrients alongside all of the other goodness that the dopamine diet promotes. Plus, if you’re going to buy a diet book, you may as well make it one masterminded by a Michelin starred chef…